In a world that is perpetually obsessed with labels, I found myself thinking about the concept of the ‘hipster’ and what had happened to it. It was a term once ripe with ironies, an all-encompassing word used to both revere and condemn those who liked things that not many people liked because not many people liked them. Memes and jokes later, we seem to be retiring the hipster, but why? “How did the hipster burn his mouth? He ate pizza before it was cool”. That’s the first reason. The predictability of this word means that calling someone a hipster now sits somewhere on the comedy scale just below doing Borat impressions whilst being a notch more obnoxious than making a Harlem shake video. The self-defeating irony deserves applause. The second reason is that we’ve lumped far too many subcultures and stereotypes into the definition of the word, as a result leaving it completely meaningless: white kids that listen to hip-hop, guys who grow moustaches and wear flannel shirts, rocking the rockabilly look, girls who shop at Urban Outfitters, vegans, the list goes on. If everyone is a hipster, then no one is a hipster. And a third, hipsters are hipsters because they like things ‘ironically’, but are we now, as discussed in an interesting article I read in Melbourne, living in a post-ironic word in terms of art and culture? And here comes another buzzword, immediately ripe for mocking and pregnant with the possibility of moving past opposing stances of ironic distance and sincere feeling.
Maybe we are getting bored of irony and seek to represent ourselves, creatively, with at least a modicum of truth in an age of overriding sarcasm and posturing. This sincerity points to a victory of belief, which, irrespective of reality, is so strong that you want to see it manifested outside of yourself in the world at large.Tumblr can be seen as an example of this manifestation with its problems and complexities. The Tumblr aesthetic is that of an individual collecting images, videos and music as a representation of themselves, or arguably based around a specific idea of what is attractive or desirable. This aesthetic is tightly bound to the user’s identity, personality, and individuality.Yet this has its own ironies. Considering the way that culture is collected and passed around online, this creation or, crucially, collation of this internet persona raises a fundamental question: when does the appropriation and imitation of past eras become the defining characteristic of the current era? Does this not just make our contemporary semblance of sincerity a stale and lifeless reconfiguration of vintage pin ups and haunting piano melodies? A sad ode to former glory days?
Consider our current generation of music, and the hypothetical fusion of lean 80s synthesiser treatments with contemporary hip hop beats. It is this fusion that perhaps creates something specific and unique, as far as culture can. Perhaps it does not entirely halt the nostalgic longing for the past, but more acknowledges it, echoes it and reinvents it.If we assume that this is the creation of original culture and the movement past the ironic over-the-shoulder glance (complete with eye-roll) how can we dodge the death of the hipster and explain the sincerity of these steps, this heartfelt discovery that has been unearthed, without sounding corny and disingenuous?Herein lies the tension between what we want, and what we think we should want, which is important in defining a world beyond irony. This is why we will watch The Only Way is Essex and still read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and probably feel uncomfortable with the compulsion to satisfy both seemingly conflicting desires. By acknowledging our public and private persona, the desire to pretend, we are acknowledging our need to take risks vicariously, and our need to live up to an ideal we wish we could maintain.The death of irony, the death of the hipster, the rise of vintage and the dilution of culture, all of these with markers of assigned significance, presumed to have an overriding connection. The truth is, if there is a truth to our age of art and culture, that there probably is no connection, but people like me will continually try to make one and fail, or look silly in doing so.